Impressions of “Leadership Therapy: Inside the Mind of Microsoft,” by Anna Rowley

This year I visited Shanghai in order to visit my wife’s cousin. While there I also had the opportunity to visit a classmate of mine, who is married to one of the most interesting men I have ever met. This man is a personality psychologist who is in private practice, consulting with large corporations. We talked about our lives, and he suggested that I read Leadership Therapy: Inside the Mind of Microsoft, a review copy of which he was recently given.

My take on Leadership Therapy is generally negative. But the page shows only five-star reviews. Therefore, while my review is negative, others have clearly found something in the book.

My biggest gripe about Leadership Therapy is that it strikes me as a rip-off of Jim Collins From Good to Great. I had the definite feeling that Rowley was using the angle of psychowhatever (she claims to follow the pseudoscience of psychotherapy in addition to the science of psychology) to simply transliterate Collins’ business book into therapeutic terms.

If you want to read some great self-help books, check out From Good to Great or Linchpin, or listen to the Dave Ramsey Show. If you want to read about Microsoft, The Microsoft Way and I Sing The Body Electronic both provide astonishingly intimate perspectives.

I rate Leadership Therapy 2 stars out of 5.

What Mao meant by “Left” and “Right”

How could Mao Zedong call the Chairman of the Communist Party, the President of the People’s Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of China “Rightist,” while also labeling the Soviet Union “Rightist,” while confiding to Nixon that he trusted governments of Rightists more than governments of Leftists?

Because those terms meant different things to Mao than they mean to us.

The iconic picture from Tiananmen Square, showing the Goddess of Democracy starring at Chairman Mao Zedong, is often interpretted to show Democracy starring down Communism. Rather, the Goddess and the Chairman were two faces of what intellectualls in the square would have identified as Leftism: a belief in the spontaneous power of the people to organize amongst themselves for the common good when an oppressive regime has been removed.

Both the portrait of the Chairman and the statue of the Goddess were positioned along the Central Axis, or “Dragon Line,” of Beijing. While they face each other, they both look at right angles away from Zhongnanhai, a former imperial garden and public park where the Communist leadership lives and works. At the time of Tiananmen the party machinery was led by Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun, two survivors from the old days fighting the KMT. Deng and Chen were two faces of what reflective officials in Zhongnanhai would have identified as Rightism: a belief in the importance of an educated bureaucracy to guide a people basically incompetent to look after themselves.

In the days before the Massacre the protesters showed classic signs of what Mao would have termed the people’s spontaneous energy



(If the liberated area of Beijing actually stretched to the Third Ring Road, as Wikileaks implies, this would have included all of non-suburban Beijing in 1989. The term ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre’ may thus be as much of a misnomer as if the fall of 1871 Battle of Paris as the “Place de la Concorde Massacre'”)

Understanding that the Massacre was interpreted by all reflective individuals involved as a a Left/Right struggle is critical to understanding the 40 years that proceeded it, and the 22 since:

Under slogans such as “Down with one-party dictatorship!” and greatly aided by the KMT (full of spies, wildly corrupt, and distracted by the greatest purge in the history of 20th-century regimes), the Chinese Communist Party established “New China” in 1949. After referring itself to a time as simply the Republic of China, and then trying on Democratic People’s Republic of China, the new regime soon settled on calling itself the “People’s Republic of China.”

The Communists made many promises to gain power, and broke nearly all of them.

The regime was lead by its Chairman, Mao Zedong, with tremendous help from Returned Students (including Deng Xiaoping) and the Whampoa Clique (such as Lin Biao). Certainly highly-influential people, including Premier Zhou Enlai, acted as godfather to both factions. But 1949 China had not yet been purged of ideology, and both Left and Right tendencies were visible to Mao in the party.

Mao’s dilemma, as a Leftist, is that naive attempts to simply exterminate the bureaucratic class had failed as early in the Chinese Soviet Republic (1931-1937). The CSR’s attempt at Leftism failed for the same reason the first liberal Chinese Republic failed in the 1910s: material conditions had not created a sufficient number of liberals to lead the country in the 1910s, as it had not created a sufficient number of educated peasants to lead the CSR in the 1930s.

Mao’s struggle, from 1949 till his head, was to allow the Right to build up the State, the Military, and the Bureaucracy, to safeguard the development of the peasantry until the time they were able to spontaneously organize. Thus, Mao typically governed as a Rightist in order to build Leftism.

Mao’s right-hand man and nemesis, Zhou Enlai, had the opposite estrategy. Zhou’s great legacy was to rebuild the bureaucracy that had nearly been destroyed by a serious of revolutions following 1911. Mao needed Zhou as a Rightest leader to give the Leftist cohorts he was building up time to mature. Zhou needed Mao’s political power and cover to build a Rightist bureaucracy. Between the two of them they allowed 100 million Chinese to die, because neither was willing to abandon the other in their opposing quest to change China.

Mao’s first designated successor, Liu Shaoqi, was a Rightist whose prestige was greatly helped by Mao’s failed Left-wing shock, the Great Leap Forward. Unfortunately for Liu, he was one of the first victims of the Cultural Revolution.

Mao’s second designated successor, Lin Biao, spoke and agitated as a Leftist, while secretly believing in Rightism and governing as one, as well. Lin became one of the last victims of the Cultural Revolution.

Mao’s third designated successor, Wang Hongwen was a Leftist. He also was proof of Mao’s fear that the peasantry was not yet competent enough to govern. Wang was simply shoved aside due to general incompetence and political impotence, though he would be arrested, tried, and jailed (for a time) later following Mao’s death.

Mao’s fourth designated successor, Hua Guofeng, and Hua’s successor, Deng Xiaoping both attempted to straddle the Left-Right divide, but for different reasons than Mao.

Mao was a Leftist who used Rightists as tools. Hua was a harmless opportunitist whose only contribution was to promise to say whatever Mao would have said, and do whatever Mao would have done (really!). Deng, in contrast, viewed both the Left and Riught as tools to helping China stand up.

Deng, like Mao, was an earthy fellow. Both enjoyed shocking audiences, Mao with profanity and Deng with undiplomatic honesty. Both felt extremely comfortable granting and taking favor from former peasants. While Mao was a romantic who truly believed in the self-organizing ability of the people, however, Deng had traveled abroad and learned a much deeper lesson: being poor sucks. From watching his friends die at a French factory, to learning his father had to sell land to support his living experiences overseas, Deng keenly believed that China’s problem was not a distant bureacracy but grinding poverty.

Like Mao, Deng could attack the Bureaucrats when it suited him (and both called them “women with bound feet” at times). Like Mao, Deng could rely on Rightists to govern for him, or take away their power when it seemed to obstruct the economic power of the people. Unlike Mao, however, Deng lived without a romantic sensibility, and so could easily believe cases were disasterous levels of incompetence emerged from trusting the common people.

Deng’s lack of heart-felt Leftism lead him to be purged three times (and to the crippling of his son), but his usefulness as an attack-dog against bureaucrats, his focus on results, his ability to praise Mao as long as Mao lived, and his wide network of friends meant he was never permanently gone.

Mao used the right to built the Left, Zhou used the Left to build the Right, Deng used the Right and Left to build China.

In the present day, China has a Bureaucracy that runs the second-largest economy in the world. While it’s relative size is probably smaller than in ancient days, this is the greatest performance for the bureaucracy in China’s history since the Great Divergence.

Also in the present day, China has a population that is connected to the world and knowledgeable about it. While it’s relative freedom is probably smaller than during the Republic, this is the greatest performance for the people since the Nanjing Decade.

When I visit China I am struck by the admiration for Mao, Zhou, and Deng, though of the three only Zhou is considered to be perfect. Opinions on Mao range from “Mao is #1” to “Mao is Evil,” while Deng’s reputation is admiration for the economic miracle combined with sadness at the increase in crime, corruption, and class differences.

In both China and the West the terms “left” and “right” seem to originate with the idea that the “right” is in support of the ruling powers while the “left” is opposed. At the time these terms were first used, however, the sttaus quo in the West meant rich landowners whose origins traced to the feudal era, while in Chian the status quo meant the powerful bureaucracy. In both China and the United States the Left/Right divide relates to the citizen’s relation to power: in China Left therefore meant being opposed to the bureaucracy, while in the West Left meant being opposed to the rich or the socially normal.

Elizabeth Burleson on Hydraulic Fracturing, Natural Gas

Professor Elizabeth Burleson has been incredibly kind to my family and myself over the past few years. There are very few people who have influenced my life more. As such I was delighted to see her interview on Bloomberg TV on the subject of natural gas ‘fracking

The video runs 16 minutes, and shows her discussin the interview with Spencer Mazyck. What’s interesting is that both Elizabeth and Spencer have legal background, and as such this is different from the technical or strategic focus of most of those who are interested in natural gas hydraulic fracturing.

Review of “On China,” by Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger is the famous American diplomat. His new book, On China, is a fine history of the “Central State” focusing on the late Qing and early Communist periods. On China is destined to be assigned reading in graduate schools for years, because of its fine application of “realist” thinking to the survival of a strong country facing a multitude of high-tech strategic rivals. On China is clearly aimed at the informed political class: professional analysts, thoughtful policy professionals, and opinion makers. The narrative of On China appears to be distorted, either because of Kissinger’s focus on his own time period, his keen insight on what to clarify on what to clarify and what to obfuscate, or both. This is most notable in his incorrect depiction of Deng Xiaoping‘s political standing, as well as the near- complete absence of discussion of the KMT or the contemporary Communist Party.

On China is a good book for anyone interested in how the most radical and dangerous of Communist states managed to position itself in the winning anti-Soviet coalition with a minimum of leadership turnover or domestic discontent. Aside from hints as to Kissinger’s own thinking, however, it contains little new as far as history goes. Kissinger’s purpose is not to write a history. It is to write an introduction to Reality.

The Decline of China and Lessons for the United States

The reaction that many foreign policy teachers will have when reading On China book is, “I hope my students are familiar with the arguments in this book!”The two most striking are Kissinger’s view of the late Qing dynasty’s foreign policy, as well as China’s participation in the Third Vietnam War. Most scholars view both late Qing Diplomacy and the Third Vietnam Wars as failures, where China paid a grievous price for a worsening of relations with its neighbors. Kissinger argues that both of these were calculated triumphs: the late Qing, faced with being surrounded by enemies each of whom was stronger that China, nonetheless maintained regime survival and territorial integrity (more or less) for as long as possible. In other words, the Qing accepted defeat after defeat in vertical, short-term scenarios and were playing to survive in a long-term, horizontal scenario.

As Kissinger writes, “[The Qing] judged that it befell the court’s ministers to repeat what the Middle Kingdom’s elites had done so often before: through a combination of delay, circumlocution, and carefully apportioned favors, they would sooth and tame the barbarians while buying time for China to outlast their assault.”

The Empire of the Great Qing

Kissinger also views the the war between China and Vietnam as a success. He repeatedly uses the Chinese phrase “touching the buttocks of the tiger” to demonstrate how China discredited the Soviet Union’s security guarantee. Kissinger also repeatedly uses the phrase “Indochinese Federation” to refer to Vietnam and its satellite states (Laos and Cambodia), and argues that China’s attack in Vietnam may have prevented Thailand from being the next country to be conquered.

In all time periods China’s strategic situation was basically the same: the country faced high-tech and potentially hostile powers whose interests were a combination of geostrategic expansion and trade. Whether the high-tech enemies were Mongol light-cavalry, Russian gunpowder brigades, or British gunboats, China cleverly used diplomacy to maneuver around its enemies. Indeed, the historic strategic situation of China appears identical to that of Byzantium, as described by Lars Brownsworth in his popular work.

Kissinger’s purpose is clear: the historical position of the Middle Kingdom will soon be shared by that other “central state,” the indispensable nation — the United States of America. The Qing example demonstrates how a superpower can maintain its own national and cultural continuity as long as suicidal decisions do not occur in close order, as they finally did under the disastrous Dowager Empress. Likewise, China’s policy against Vietnam aggression shows how a superpower can use calculated attacks on the client of a rival to maintain the peace.

Kissinger relays some now-famous advise from Deng Xiaoping, which is often considered to be Deng’s version of the “speak softly and carry a big stick” line:

Observe carefully, secure our position, cope with affairs calmly; hide our capabilities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.

Kissinger continues with Deng’s secret explanation of his advise — advise which Kissinger clearly wants U.S. leaders to understand and appreciate:

Enemy troops are outside the walls. They are stronger than we. We should be mainly on the defensive.

The Nature of Chinese Communism

Like the Chinese news agency (or any good editor, for that matter), Kissinger argues his point not so much by stating an opinion but limiting what facts he shares. This is most obvious on the time period that he focuses on. Later in the book, however, Kissinger’s power of selecting facts appears to fail him, and he makes statements that are simply untrue.

I think this is intentional.

The greatest hope for peace in our day is probably a United Front between the Chinese KMT on Taiwan and the Chinese Communists on the mainland. That both the Chinese mainland and “Chinese Taipei” are governed by pro-business, pro-trade, patriotic, and mildly corrupt regimes which share a common history is amazing. Yet the KMT regime is nearly absent in the book, which serves as a problem for anyone wanting to understanding China’s “near abroad.” This is especially frustrating in places where Kissinger seems to almost bring it up, like in this transcripts:

MAO: Our common old friend, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, doesn’t approve of this. He calls us Communist bandits. He recently issued a speech. Have you seen it?

NIXON: Chiang Kai-shek calls the Chairman a bandit. What does the Chairman call Chiang Kai-shek?

ZHOU: Generally speaking we call them Chiang Kai-shek’s clique. In the newspapers sometimes we call him a bandit; we are also called bandits in turn. Anyway, we abuse each other.

MAO: Actually, the history of our friendship with him is much longer than the history of your friendship with him.

Misstatement replaces silence later on, however. For instance, consider this:

Deng’s Reform and Opening Up was designed to overcome this built-in stagnation. He and his associates embarked on market economics, decentralized decision making, and opening to the outside world — all unprecedented changes.

Kissinger is probably right about the first and last element in the list, but definitely not the second. Indeed, the disasters that Mao is most associated with — the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolutions — were examples of distributed decision making in extremis. Indeed, Mao often appears to be used the term “Left” to mean distributed and “Right” to mean bureaucratic, which leads to the obvious conclusion that, at least as far as decentralized decision making went, Deng did not so much replace statistics” with sensible goals and measures. At the same time, Mao’s Leftward tilts toward distributed decision making were unsuccessful, and so in between revolutions Mao relied on “Rightist” governments led by Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao, and Deng Xiaoping.

Mao was willing to sacrifice the lives of 100 million Chinese to build a Leftist future of distributed decision making for China. He was willing to experiment and try new things, at an unfathomable cost in death and destruction, to do so. But in between attempts, when disorder threatened to do away with his power, Mao used Rightist bureaucrats to recharge — to set up the next stage.

Just as Kissinger teases us by raising the issue of the KMT, but not relating it to the Communists, Kissinger also teases the reader here, too. Kissinger writes:

[Mao] stressed his personal goodwill to Nixon, both personally and because he said he preferred dealing with right-wing governments on the grounds that they were more reliable. Mao, the author of the Great Leap Forward and the Anti-Rightest Campaign, made the astonishing remark that he had “voted for” Nixon, and that he was “comparatively happy when these people on the right come to power” (in the West, at least).

The Right are reliable bureaucrats. Mao’s statements is no more shocking that the view of the Soviet Union presented by Tom Clancy: menacing, dangerous, rational, and painfully boring.

(To tie this in with a recent book I read, Lord of the World, under Mao’s use of the terms, the British Communist Party would have been a Right-wing government, while the order established by Pope Sylvester would have been a left-wing movement.)

The effect Kissinger’s silence is compounded by the very next thing he offers, a transcript between Nixon and Mao, in which Kissinger allows the reader to think the line about DeGaulle is a laugh-line, instead of an elaboration of Mao’s view of the Right and the Left:

NIXON: When the Chairman says he voted for me, he voted for the lesser of two evils.

MAO: I like rightists. People say you are rightists, that the Republican Party is to the right, that Prime Minister Heath is also to the right.

NIXON: And General DeGaulle.

MAO: DeGaulle is a different question. They also say that the Christian Democratic party of West Germany is also to the right. I am comparatively happy when these people on the right come into power.

DeGaulle was a “different question” not because the French were quirky, but DeGaulle was unpredictable, and (liked Mao) viewed his government as a dangerous tool and was willing to sacrifice entire provinces to├é┬ápreserve the national essence. The Republicans, the Tories, the CDP, and even the Soviet Communists, however, were lifeless, bureaucratic automatons.

Kissinger tantalizes the reader with parallels left unstated. For instance, Kissinger traces the use of the phrase “peaceful evolution” as first described by John Foster Dulles as a method of ending the Communist threat, then to Deng Xiaoping as identifying a threat to regime survival, then to Warren Christopher as a goal of the United States. But Kissinger writes:

The heir of Mao’s China was advocating market principles, risk taking, private initiative, and the important of productivity and entrepreneurship… Deng’s advise was that China should “be bolder,” that it should redouble its efforts and “dare to experiment”: “We must not act like women with bound feet. Once we are sure that something should be done, we should dare to experiment and break a new path… Who dares claim that he is 100 percent sure of success that he is taking no risks.”

But Deng’s statement is almost word-for-word a copy of Mao’s rhetoric at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward. Indeed, both Mao in the late 1950s and Deng in the early 1980s were attempting to weaken the power of central bureaucrats in the economy. Indeed, it was Mao who first recognized the enormous economic potential of experimenting peasants: “As is clear to everyone, the spontaneous forces of capitalism have been steadily growing in the countryside in recent years, with new rich peasants springing up everywhere and many well-to-do middle class peasants striving to become rich peasants.”

A Love to Learn

On China‘s a good book. Kissinger, deservedly, has a very high reputation. So I truly wonder if the problems and omissions in On China are by accident or design. For instance, in the epilogue Kissinger writes:

In all of China’s extravagant history, there was no precedent for how to participate in a global order, whether in concert with — or in opposition to — another superpower.

But this is simply wrong! China and Russia are both successor states to the Mongol Horde. Russia was the first state that China recognized as “sovereign.” Russia had a de facto embassy in Beijing for centuries before any other westerners were even allowed to live in the city. Kissinger even explicitly refers to the history of the three-way continental politics between Russia, Turkestan, and China in in a footnote:

The story of Qing expansion in “inner Asia” under a series of exceptionally able Emperors is related in rich detail in Peter Perdue, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2005).

So what’s going on?

The answer is that On China is not really a memoir, or a history book, or a country guide. It is a tool to teach foreign policy. Kissinger is following his advise. Quoting a Qing official:

In your association with foreigners, your manner and deportment should not be too lofty, and you should have a vague, casual appearance. Let their insults, deceitfulness, and contempt for everything appear to be understood by you and yet seem not understood, for you should look somewhat stupid.

and quoting Confucius:

Love of kindness, without a love to learn, finds itself obscured by foolishness. Love of knowledge, without a love to learn, finds itself obscured by loose speculation. Love of honesty, without a love to learn, finds itself obscured by harmful candour. Love of straightforwardness, without a love to learn, finds itself obscured by misdirected judgment. Love of daring, without a love to learn, finds itself obscured by insubordination. And love for strength of character, without a love to learn, find itself obscured by intractability.

So it is pointless to go on — to challenge Kissinger’s statement that Mao followed Confucius, or Kissinger’s lowballing of the death figure in the Great Leap Forward, or Kissinger’s statement that Deng Xiaoping lost control of the press in the early 1990s, or any of the weird statements that Kissinger makes.

The purpose of On China is learning. While the audience is people who want to learn about China, the intention is to teach Americans international relations.

Kissinger uses the term “reality” 27 times. The 27 instances 27 quotes by Kissinger, which contrast “Reality” with idealism, misapprehension, chaos, hope, friendship, disappointment, expectation, and so on. The purpose of On China is to focus the reader on Reality, and not on the fluffery which so often get in the way.

On China‘s a brilliant book, and succeeds at its goals.

Review of “Overqualified,” by Joey Comeau

Overqualified is a humorous collection of terrible resume cover letters. Through them one gradually grows to know the weird narrator and has a number of laughs along the way.

Overqualified is not a deeply moving story int he way that Veins, another humorous novella, was. While Viens makes one seriously consider the man behind the laughter, in Overqualified we get a collection of really good laugh lines

I don’t make collect calls, I make the operator pay.


When a week had gone by, my lady friend asked, “Have you finished with my book yet?”

I shook my head. “No,” I said, “but I’m finished with you.”


“You think that love has to last forever for it to be real. You think it isn’t true love unless it lasts until one of us is dead…. That isn’t love. That’s dog fighting.”

I mostly read Overqualified in two sittings. It was well worth the $8.59 price for the Kindle edition.

Review of “Monsters,” “Long Eyes,” and “The Adventures of Julie Beauchain,” by Jeff Carlson

I first came across Jeff Carlson by reading his story story, The Frozen Sky, an amazing tale of the role of reaction speed, and inhumanity, in battle. Jeff is also a blogger, and he was kind enough to virtually sit for a short interview. Recently, Jeff published a couple of his short-story collections on kindle. They are

In my review of The Frozen Sky, I compared that story to the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. The Frozen Sky really does reach that level of perfection. It is a story that is fully embedded within the science-fiction genre, but the basic questions that it raises (what is the quality of speed? what is the quality of humanity?) are central to all fiction.

Here, I will compare Carlson to Thomas Ligotti… and to Carlson himself!

Two of these books are really horror, in the classic sense. The stories in Long Eyes and Monsters center around degeneration, the theme of all great atmosphere horror, whether by H.P. Lovecraft, Charles Stross, or Thomas Ligotti. Ligotti is perhaps the natural comparison. The problem is that horror — degenerative fiction — is hard to write. Just as drama is unbearable without comedy, horror is unbearable without beauty. Lovecraft’s science fiction novella At the Mountain of Madness, concerning the disastrous encounter between a scientific expedition and weird life-forms at the south pole, is ultimately a story of sympathy and love. Even Ligotti’s short story “Gas Station Carnivals,” is based on that nostalgia for the childhood of early memories, where we can’t quite determine of they are memories of events, or memories of dreams…

In my view, Monsters and Long Eyes fails as horror, because they do not paint the degenerate world as beautiful.

While Monsters and Long Eyes are horrors, Julie Beauchain is war-fiction. Indeed, there are strong parallels to Julie and The Frozen Sky: both feature a female protagonist amid an violently indifferent population , in a hostile environment, connected to humanity only through an emotional distant “Other,” and both books works into the science fiction genre. Between the two, The Frozen Sky is a purer example of the form. Julie Beauchain flirts with both the detective story and apocalyptic fiction, and so is not constrained enough to enable literary freedom.

I am glad I read these three works on my Kindle. The Frozen Sky is one of my favorite short stories (along with Gene Wolfe’s “Mute” and Lovecraft’s “The Terrible Old Man“), and these works help put what works about The Frozen Sky in perspective.

And great news, Monsters and Long Eyes are now available free from Jeff Carlson’s blog!